Cops and Writers

Laurent Guillaume is a multiple-award-winning French writer and former police officer. In law enforcement, he worked anti-gang, narcotics, financial crimes, and served in Mali as an advisor to the local police. His first novel to be translated into English is a hard-boiled PI story set in West Africa: White Leopard. Here he tells us about how his life as a cop mixes with his life as a writer.

Does being a cop help to write a mystery novel?
It is both an asset and toxic. My novels necessarily borrow from reality, so being a cop is an advantage. But I also think it is a trap. In a mystery, the writer's main preoccupation has to be the plot.

>>>Be drawn in before you can spot what lies ahead<<<

In your novels, politicians are never very clean.
I think the quest for power has a negative impact on everyone who goes after it. Politics has the power to corrupt on many levels because it lives off of everything that is toxic in our society: money, dissimulation, and lies. One has to overcome so many obstacles to attain power that it becomes a kind of Grail, and overcomes its original raison d’être: public good. But there are politicians who are driven by a real sense of democracy, by honest political conviction and humanism. I like to believe that even the worst people can at certain times and under certain circumstances prove to have some purity. The opposite is true as well. It is just a matter of proportion.

You seem to leave the reader to judge. Is this done on purpose?
I don't like the idea of telling a reader how to think or what to like or not like about my novels. I don't judge, I tell a story. Moral judgments are for philosophers. All of my characters are made of shadow and light, like in life. You are free to love them or hate them for what they are. But I don't want them to leave you indifferent. Indifference is the harshest criticism.

Tell us a little something about the genre you chose for this book.
White Leopard
is what I would call a “hard-boiled African” thriller. I went back to the codes of the 1930s-1940s hard-boiled detective novel (tough, alcoholic PI; the femme fatale who brings him a complicated, perilous case; etc.) and then I transposed them to contemporary Africa. And it worked.

>>>If you long for Philip Marlowe's return, this one is just for you<<<

What inspired you to write this book? Is it based on real events or your own experience?
When I worked at the French Embassy in Mali, I was in charge of police cooperation, particularly with regards to drug trafficking and organized crime. At the time, I worked on a case called “Air Cocaine” as a consultant for the Malian authorities. It didn’t take long to find some material for a good mystery in there. For that matter, a better part of the novel is based on real events.

Why Exile Makes for a Good Protagonist

Top French writer Laurent Guillaume

Laurent Guillaume, author of White Leopard, was a cop and became a writer. He shares some thoughts about his protagonist and his book.

How did you come up with your protagonist?
For the character of Solo, I raised the question of mixed race. Blacks consider Solo white, and whites consider him black. I find this to be a particularly interesting issue for a novel because it carries narrative tension. Solo is exiled from a life in which he lost everything, and he is unconsciously looking for a second chance, a second self. He thinks he should die, that that would be best, but unconsciously he hangs onto life because deep down he is more of an optimist than he lets show.

What sets him apart?
Solo’s mixed background gives him a particular complexity. He is torn between two worlds (Africa and Europe), two cultures (French and Malian), and two religions (Christianity and Islam). His past as a “fallen” cop on the run, pursued by his former colleagues also sets him apart.

What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Stormy, loyal and sentimental.

Can you describe your protagonist, Solo, in five words?
Hot-tempered, ironic, alcoholic, nosy, depressive, vindictive, sentimental.

What actor do see playing him?
Denzel Washington

Do you see Solo coming back?
It is probable that Solo will become a recurring character. It is important for me that the character evolve and grow. I find it annoying when the protagonist is always the same fifteen years later. The scars on Solo’s soul are there, but they will begin to heal. I don’t want a hero that just keeps digging a deeper hole. I like to be more light hearted than that—sometimes.